Joburg follows suit with ‘delinquent’ ratepayers after Tshwane collects R300 million

Political analyst Tessa Dooms questions how government departments and businesses managed to rake up debts totalling hundreds of millions of rands.

Tshwane’s robust action of disconnecting large businesses and government departments who owe them millions of rands has successfully collected about R300 million as of this week and while the City of Johannesburg implemented the same strategy on Tuesday, questions are being raised as to how the bill was allowed to get so high. 

The capital city’s #TshwaneYaTima campaign saw the mayor Randall Williams relentlessly targeting those in arrears, including the water and sanitation department, the higher education and training department, state-owned entity Denel and even the Gautrain. To date, about 500 businesses and government departments were disconnected in the capital city. 

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The campaign has continued this week, with residential estates and complexes also being disconnected. But while some, such as the Gautrain’s Hatfield station, have threatened to take legal action against the city, revenue collection has been successful.

Tshwane spokesperson Selby Bokaba said some landlords were able to pay the outstanding amount within 30 minutes of disconnection. Since the campaign began, R300 million has already reflected in the city’s bank account from the outstanding R17 billion owed to it, said Bokaba.

“There is enthusiasm and people are paying. Within one week, we collected R300 million after we threatened to disconnect their services… Just when we are on the verge of disconnecting, they are able to pay. Like Denel, we had disconnected and they made the payment and we reconnected them,” said Bokaba.

“The State Theatre owed us R2.1 million and wanted to pay R500,000 but made the whole payment and settled their account in full. Head office of the South African Police Service was owing R5.1 million. It is not the SAPS that is owing us but it’s the landlord, Watchuis Building, and they paid us the entire balance.”

As for the Gautrain’s Hatfield station, the last payment they made under Bombela Concession Group was on 4 March 2020.

“It’s a sad development what Gautrain is doing. In addition to the R10 million they owe us, they also owe us R6 million for Gautrain Centurion. I am looking at their bill as we speak. I am not thumbsucking this information,” Bokaba said. 

Joburg follows suit

Following the debt collection campaign in Tshwane, City of Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse has followed suit to collect the outstanding R38 billion in unpaid municipal rates, taxes and levies during the Buya Mthetho campaign.

Like in Tshwane, Phalatse said the termination of services comes after account holders were sent pre-termination notices and warnings of their debts. The cut-off of services on Wednesday should come as no surprise to “delinquent” ratepayers, she added.

“There are no options available to the city account holders. Unfortunately… as the city, we are left with no option but to terminate the services of these account holders. The culture of non-payment must be remedied, and one such medicine is to take the drastic but necessary step of cutting off services,” Phalatse said.

While such drastic revenue collection might seem like good governance, one needs to ask how the municipalities have allowed such debts to accumulate, said political analyst Tessa Dooms.

“The first thing to question is how the bills have raked up to the point they are at now. These are two cities that have been under the coalition government for five years and the DA had a bite of the cherry in leading the government. What has taken them this long to do this process to make sure the accounts are up to date? How do we get to the point where hundreds of millions are owed?” asked Dooms.

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But according to Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage, the debt collection action by the two metros are necessary for local government operations. The fact that government departments have managed to get away without paying their bills is an indication of the damage of cadre development and political interference in administrative processes, he said.

“I can almost guarantee you that a city like eThekwini is owed millions by various government departments for unpaid rates, taxes, water, electricity, etc. but political forces or lack of political will prevents them from taking action to get paid,” he said.

“Government departments are no more special than anyone else and must pay. In fact, they should lead the way and never be in arrears with their local municipalities, which makes it rather disturbing that government departments are in arrears in the first place.”

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City of Tshwane(COT) Randall Williams